The Reelist: David Brind on Teen Angst
Dare: Zach Gilford and Emmy Rossum
Dare, the new film directed by Adam Salky, opens this Friday after its premiere earlier this year at Sundance. Written by Tribeca Film Festival alum David Brind (Twenty Dollar Drinks, TFF 2006), Dare follows the story of three teens caught up in a tempestuous love triangle. With so many influences evident in the story, we asked Brind to share his inspiration with us.
We are pleased to present our first-ever guest-hosted Reelist. From the classic Rebel Without A Cause to seminal 90s hits (Election, The Ice Storm, Welcome to the Dollhouse) to the more recent Mean Girls, he's picked a gem of a list, and we have updated our Netflix queue accordingly.
I’ve been a fan of the high school movie genre for as long as I can remember. Adolescence, for me, was a time of extremely heightened emotions, desires, and drives. The tricky part in creating this teenage world on the page is the tendency to rely on the clichés of American high school life. There’s the fat kid and the rich bitch. The loser and the jock. The bad girl and the band geek.
And like most clichés, there’s a reason these characterizations exist—walk the halls of many high schools, especially in suburbia, and you’ll see these “types” alive and well. Hell, just turn on one of MTV’s teen reality series, and there they are.
High school is an easy target to parody or send up. Exploiting the conventions of the world is easy—just treat the kids as the types they appear to be, exaggerate, throw in some pseudo-edgy dialogue, and voilà. There have been some incredibly successful teen films that have done just that.
But my inspiration for Dare lay in creating these teen characters as psychologically complex, conflicted individuals. My intent was to play with archetypes from high school movies past, celebrating the fun of the familiar—Alexa the good girl, Ben the outsider, Johnny the bad boy—and then gradually unmask them as evolving, quite specific human beings.
The films below all inspire me as both a screenwriter and a movie-goer in their various portrayals of adolescence in America. Enjoy!
Rebel Without A Cause
Director: Nicholas Ray (1955)
Screenplay: Nicholas Ray, Stewart Stern, & Irving Shulman
Based on Shulman’s novel Children of the Dark
The ultimate high school film, Rebel was way ahead of its time in depicting the emotional intensity of the American teen. In the Sundance catalogue description of Dare, John Cooper wrote, “[Brind & Salky] capture perfectly a generation with nothing to rebel against except their self-imposed inhibitions.” If this is true about Dare, than a major debt of gratitude is owed to Nicholas Ray and the writers of Rebel.
I first saw Rebel when I was 17. It was playing on the big screen at a multiplex as part of a classic film series. My best friend Jamie and I snuck in with bottles of beer in shopping bags—we had skipped out on a party that night that felt way too status quo for us to attend.
The frank depiction of teenage sexuality in the film and the triangular relationship between the characters played by James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo were daringly portrayed. Mineo’s Plato was clearly infatuated, perhaps in love with, Dean’s Jim Stark. Conscious or otherwise, the iconic image of the threesome cuddling together served as a major inspiration for the relationship between Alexa, Ben, and Johnny in Dare.
Welcome to the Dollhouse
Director: Todd Solondz (1995)
Screenplay: Todd Solondz
Oh, Dawn Wiener… Solondz’s blackly comic yet emotionally honest depiction of middle school in the New Jersey suburbs created a new kind of film about adolescence in suburban America. Dollhouse combines a simplicity of storytelling with such specificity of tone that makes it, for me, a groundbreaking film, and one of the few I can watch over and over and never get tired of.
Heather Matarazzo’s Dawn embodies that combination of jadedness, earnestness, and intensity of longing that makes her an “every-girl”—relatable for anyone who ever went through the pains of adolescence.
The Ice Storm
Director: Ang Lee (1997)
Screenplay: James Schamus
Based on the novel by Rick Moody
One of my all-time favorite films. Subtly detailing the underbelly of the upper-middle class American family in the early 1970s, The Ice Storm is timeless. Every character has a secret, and no one is entirely who they appear to be. The mother-daughter relationship between Joan Allen’s Elena and Christina Ricci’s Wendy is captured indelibly by their shared practice of shoplifting from the town drugstore. This is a film about the struggle with identity in suburban America—not just among young people, but as it continues throughout life.
Lee’s filmmaking has both a delicacy and a hard crystallinity about it: visually stunning and emotionally heartbreaking. I love this movie, especially Sigourney Weaver wearing a fall and carrying a whip.
Director: Alexander Payne (1999)
Screenplay: Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta
In the Dare screenplay, one of my main goals was to play with the archetypal characters of the high school film—the good girl, the outsider, the bad boy. I wanted them at first to feel familiar from stories past, but ultimately to subvert each “type” and unmask them as psychologically complex, three-dimensional individuals.
Election does this beautifully. Reese Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick is the classic striver, the calculated good-girl operating at 120%. Tracy is the “big sister” to Dare’s Alexa Walker (Emmy Rossum).
Like Dare, Election also surveys the teenage landscape through the eyes of different characters. The audience gets a sense of the inner workings of the various genres of teen. Dare picks up on that theme and takes it to a little more of a mature, R-rated place—both sexually and psychologically.
Director: Mark Waters (2004)
Screenplay: Tina Fey
Based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman
Both Lindsay Lohan and Tina Fey at the top of their games. Mean Girls represents the more commercial side of high school films on this list but, like all of the above films, has a great script and carefully etched performances.
One of the things I love about high school films is detail—especially when it comes to the supporting and minor characters. Mean Girls’ cast of characters is ingenious—from the mathletes to the sobbing school secretary to Amy Poehler’s “cool mom,” there is not one character in this film that is inserted haphazardly; every one adds to the whole.
Fun, brilliantly paced, and hilarious, the only high school film in recent memory that, for me, has become a part of the canon.
David Brind (Twitter: @davidbrind) is a filmmaker with a theater background. In addition to three short films (including Twenty Dollar Drinks, TFF 2006), his credits include the direction of one-woman shows by Sandra Bernhard (Sandra Bernhard: Everything Bad and Beautiful, both off-Broadway and in his native Philadelphia) and Cady Huffman. Dare is his first feature-length screenplay.
Dare opens Friday, November 13, in New York and Los Angeles. Find tickets near you.
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Watch the trailer: